Punjab Healthcare Commission’s Resolve against quackery

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 Punjab Healthcare Commission’s 
Resolve against quackery

By Durdana Najam

The establishment of the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC) in 2011 determined the resolve of the Punjab government to bring the health sector under the legal ambit. Not that the health industry was operating without rules or regulations, but the absence of an overarching body with judicatory powers had paved way for professional lapses and the penetration of unethical medical practices and untrained doctors. The PHC had to face enormous bottlenecks from reluctant Healthcare Establishments (HCEs), who had difficulty in recognizing that regulatory instruments were not aimed at controlling them, but to reintroduce quality of care into the system that had been neglected for far too long.

Even though the PHC was the government’s initiative, one of its biggest challenges was to reconnect government run HCEs with their mission of providing accessible, affordable and quality healthcare services.  It was a long haul, because of the entrenched habit of doctors to ignore the public health sector and promote the private practices. Another formidable challenge was to weed out quackery. While the Commission was running a campaign, in collaboration with district authorities, to respond to public complaints of quackery, this initiative received a major boost after the completion of the census of HCEs operating in Punjab. Through a comprehensive census, that geographically mapped all HCEs, the PHC was able to identify and crackdown on quackery outlets being run by illegal medical practitioners. More recently, since the Supreme Court’s order appointed the PHC as the lead agency to eliminate quackery from Punjab, the Commission has taken its anti-quackery drive to a higher level. A fully dedicated Anti-Quackery Department is striving to protect people from the harmful effects of treatment from quacks and has thus far, sealed more than 14,700 quackery outlets.

The PHC’s drive to eliminate quackery in all its forms and manifestations also aims to rehabilitate the medical profession in letter and spirit. According to the Punjab Healthcare Commission Act 2010, a quack is a person who either pretends to be health service provider or who provides health services without having registration of the Medical and Dental Council, Council for Tibb, Council for Homeopathy and Nursing Council.  Quacks operate in both the mainstream and alternative treatment methods.  A quack, in the sense of a medical impostor, was originally called quacksalver, meaning a person who cures with home remedies. Later, the word was used for someone using false cures or knowledge. 

Surprisingly, many educated people have been found seeking guidance of unprofessional doctors for quick treatment. The fact is, no matter what type of medicine is consumed, all have both positive and negative effects. It is the right treatment, with the right medicine, at the right time, that brings relief.

Poverty and illiteracy are two main reasons why people fall for fake doctors. When public health sector is not ubiquitous, especially in the case of rural areas, and people lack the resources to afford private doctors, quackery comes as the last resort to safe life and limb. 

The question is why is quackery dangerous and why should it be avoided.  When we talk of quackery, we talk about a person who is claiming to know a disease and its treatment path, when in fact he has no clue. An old saying goes thus, “The highwayman demands ‘your money or your life,’ but quacks demand ‘your money and your life.” Quackery is not peculiar to Pakistan. It is a global health concern. All over the world, people have lost limbs, eyes, wombs, various body parts and even their lives.

Quackery is usually taken up by those who had been associated with a qualified doctor as an assistant. In the process of working in a clinic, they learn which drug to prescribe for a treatment, the routes of administration and the therapeutic and side effects of various drugs. Over time, they also become experts in at least handling medical procedures like vaccinations, deworming and diagnosis/treatment of mild clinical conditions. However, their understanding about the cause and effect of a disease remains trivial. Their knowledge about how to counter side-effects and what to do if emergencies arise, never go beyond a superficial level. Therefore, most of the time their practices result in unpalatable consequences, such as disability or untimely death.  So before falling for the attraction of a low bill or a quack’s glib talk, use your right to enquire about the doctor, clinic or hospital. Many hints, though, can come handy to identify quacks, such as outrageously low cost, unhygienic environment, rude staff, applying unhygienic and used needles.

These are just a few of many indicators to recognize a quack.  However, a word of caution: A quack maybe applying all the necessary care to pretend being a practitioner. Thus, patients have to be very careful and use their right to see the relevant credentials from a doctor, especially to find out whether the clinic or hospital is registered or licensed from the PHC.

Health can either help or hinder the process of national development. Effective healthcare services are essential to protect the physical and mental wellbeing of people. Therefore, providing proper healthcare facilities and respecting the factor of equitable opportunities should be the policy planners.

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